"Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder."
This occurs when a character or group of characters in a narrative are repeatedly able to use their money as "persuasion" for anyone in their way, with little to no resistance from those being bribed. Whether it's getting past the guards at the Supervillain Lair
or retrieving vital information from the local townsfolk
, these characters always find that money is the universal negotiator. This act of shameless coercion is obviously based on the Stock Phrase
and heroes and villains alike, it seems, are never shy about finding out what "every man's" price is.
Since large sums of cash can be required for their bribes, it is common to see a character pull out a Briefcase Full of Money
when invoking this trope, but this is certainly not required. It is not required that the bribes involve actual cash either, and they can include anything from delicious candy
to gratuitous sexual favors.
Note that this trope does not mean a character simply bribes someone
during the plot threads. It is only indicative of characters who frequently use bribes to coerce others with impunity. Particularly horrendous abusers of this trope show characters that can regularly bribe their Mooks
or other characters to do damn near anything, even with situations where the payment would certainly not be worth the risk or loss (such as jobs with a near-guarantee of death or dismemberment
A subtrope of Screw the Rules, I Have Money!
, although the character doesn't necessarily
have to be richer than anybody else.
Compare Buy Them Off
, where a character attempts to use a form of bribery to atone for evil actions, and Villain with Good Publicity
, for characters who take bribery, coercion, and fraud to a whole different level. Contrast Bribe Backfire
, which is what happens when the briber underestimates the price
of his/her target.
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Anime and Manga
- Excel♥Saga: Kapabu's control of Fukuoka City is founded entirely on bribery and blackmail.
- Early in the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime and manga, Kaiba was known to use both bribery and blackmail to get what he wanted. (In the manga, he even admitted he got his three Blue-Eyes White Dragons cards this way.) Mokuba intended to do the same thing in the manga (he was far more evil in that version than he was in the anime, at least early on). Kaiba mellowed on this a little as the series progressed (he stopped using methods that were outright illegal, but he still tended to use his wealth to his advantage).
- Of course, as bad as Kaiba was, his adoptive father was much worse. To Gozuburo's thinking, money was the answer to everything, and there was nothing that couldn't be bought. (That was a big factor that led to Kaiba taking him down the first time, come to think of it.)
- In the Alternate Universe of Code Geass, Benjamin Franklin was bribed by the British Empire with titles of nobility. He then betrayed the American Revolutionary movement. With the information provided by him, the British army organized an ambush where George Washington was killed, thus bringing the American Revolution to a screeching halt.
- Magic: The Gathering: In addition to the monger cards, and the new legend rule (wherein playing a second copy is bribing the character to leave), this is the default behavior of black, which uses everything as a resource.
- During Grant Morrison's run on JLA, Lex Luthor recruited mercenary Flash villain Mirror Master as part of his Injustice League. Mirror Master ultimately quit the team; his loyalties were always to the highest bidder, and Luthor was ultimately outbid...by Bruce Wayne.
- Also a rare usage of this trope as a Pet the Dog moment, Luthor couldn't outbid Wayne because Wayne was giving the money to Mirror Master's favorite charity. An orphanage he grew up in.
- Most of the James Bond films feature him using both financial and "non-financial" bribery to further his cause, meaning that the cumulative amount of bribes he has performed over the years is staggering.
- The frequency and relative ease with which the protagonist in Les Invasions Barbares bribes the people around him to make his father's last weeks the best he can is both funny and rather depressing.
- The corporate executive in Small Soldiers solves all problems by throwing money at them. At the end of the film, he passes out cheques to everybody involved to get them to keep quiet about what happened. One of them protests that you can't just buy people's silence like that, then reads the amount of the cheque and decides that actually you can.
- Yuri Orlov in Lord of War apparently never meets a single border guard unwilling to look away for a moment for a stack of green.
- He does note however, that some people - like the Interpol agent who takes a personal interest in him - can't be bought with money.
They say every man has his price - but not every man gets it. Interpol Agent, Jack Valentine, couldn't be bought, at least not with money. For Jack, glory was the prize.
- Cutler Beckett in Pirates of the Caribbean actually quotes this Trope, after he forces Governor Swann to devote all his influence and political power to support the East India Trading Company.
"Every man has a price he will willingly accept. Even for what he hoped never to sell."
- In S.W.A.T. a French drug lord is arrested in Los Angeles and announces on national TV that he is offering a multi-million dollar reward to anyone who can free him from police custody. Chaos erupts as multiple gangs and other lowlifes try to break him out. The titular SWAT team is tasked with delivering the prisoner to a federal prison and he offers them the money to help him escape. One of SWAT members finds the money to be too much of a temptation and betrays the team.
- Though it's not in the book, the movie The Count of Monte Cristo shows Cristo's servant driving a wagon up to the manor of a Parisian. He tells the owner that he is there to purchase the man's huge ancestral estate, and is laughed at heartily—until the servant opens the back of the wagon, out of which pour coins, huge gems and other treasure. Cut to the man driving off with the wagon, and the servant with deed in hand.
- On a party, a man asks a woman:
"A hypothetical question: Would you sleep with me for one billion dollars?"
"Wow, that's a lot of money... yes, I guess I would."
"Would you sleep with me for five dollars?"
"Just what sort of a girl do you think I am?!"
"We've already settled that. Now we're just haggling over price."
- The Cat Who Walks Through Walls: Richard and Gwen bribe their way around Luna, kind of justified since they're "on the lam."
- Foundation: Uses this a fair bit. In one humorous scene a captured spy is told about a nebulous Mind Probe that 'can make any man talk', which turns out to be a big wad of cash.
- Subverted later in the same story. The protagonists use that very cash. to effortlessly bribe their way up the chain of Imperial bureaucrats (nobility would have been faster, but their price is beyond the budget). Just when you think they're going to be able to see the Emperor, one of the people they try to bribe turns out to be a quite incorruptible Imperial Police Lieutenant.
- In the story before that, a politician comes to the protagonist (an Anti-Hero trader) and tries to convince him to switch over to his camp. The trader remarks that his opinions might be for sale, but the politician can't offer him profit.
- Mara, Daughter of the Nile: This is basically Sheftu's life philosophy, and he's proven right time and again, only for him to discover Mara is being tortured because she refused to betray him for a bribe.
- The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Has one chapter, "How to Pass a Bribe," where the entire outline seems to be written for a scenario revolving around the reader getting in trouble with a customs official while attempting to smuggle goods out of a third-world country.
- In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance Tej's father questions her about what it would take to coopt Ivan into using his lineage to the Arqua family's benefit. Tej explains that Ivan has no ambition, thinks ambition dangerous and that what he wants is comfort (which of course he already has too much to risk). The same is asked of Simon and Ivan is amazed at the idea that Simon could be purchaseable. In fact Simon was purchaseable in a way; Simon didn't think the project would hurt Barrayar, was interested in getting an ally for Barryar's future covert-ops, had a personal interest in keeping the Obnoxious In-Laws from interfereing in Ivan's new marriage, and he was just plain bored.
- In Memory demonstrates that other bribes besides the normal money, sex, power, revenge, etc, are quite common by telling an Imp Sec war story of how an agent was assigned to get an elephant because a foreign diplomat had asked for that as the price of his favor in negotiations. Simon says he could not tell whether or not it was a joke but an elephant was requested and an elephant was given.
- The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth. British mining tycoon Sir James Manson ponders this trope, concluding "If they cannot be bought, they can be broken." Unfortunately for his plans, the mercenary he's hired to overthrow an African dictatorship for his own puppet ruler proves otherwise as he's Secretly Dying.
Live Action TV
- Ted DiBiase's character in WWE bribed quite a few people during his time as a wrestling Heel, to the point that it actually became his routine. His Catch Phrase, also the first line in his entrance theme, was "Everybody's got a price".
- In the Cabin Pressure episode "Edinburgh", Martin refuses to humiliate himself groveling to Mr. Birling for £500. £6000, however, is another matter entirely. Unfortunately, Martin's terrible luck holds out.
- In section "Zilan Wine" of Traveller, the PCs can bribe every single government official on the planet Zila, no exceptions.
- In the Planescape campaign setting of Dungeons & Dragons, it's possible to get almost anything you want in Sigil through bribery - information, special treatment from a service, entrance into a place you couldn't otherwise get into, even getting the town watch to look the other way (depending on how honest he is). Probably nowhere in the universe is the expression "money talks" more true than there.
- Greasus Goldtooth in Warhammer Fantasy is apparently rich enough to bribe any enemy into incompetence. This includes most royal guards and is actually one of his special abilities.
- Exalted's Solar charm Knowing the Soul's Price allows you to do exactly that by revealing the one thing for which its target will do anything. The charm description, however, states that although every man has his price, this price is not necessarily money, and that it is more likely both to be really high and not to be money for persons with high moral standards.
- This is the hat of the Syndicate from Mage: The Ascension. Their Enlightened science focuses on manipulating economies and individuals through the flow of money and valuable resources; the more powerful ones can literally break reality by throwing money at it. "Hey, fire hydrant! I'll give you two hundred dollars if you'll become a flamethrower!"
- In Knickerbocker Holiday, the Councilmen distribute hush-money to people who ask troublesome questions, including each other.
- The player in Beyond Castle Wolfenstein can bribe any of the elite troops guarding Hitler's bunker with a few Marks if you don't have a legitimate pass.
- Any machine in the first BioShock can be bought out with a cash payment— vending machines, health stations and even security drones.
- The Diplomat unit in the original Civilization could buy off enemy units. When the government type is Democracy, it is a quite efficient way to weaken the enemies' resistance.
- Similarly, the Probe Team unit in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri can take over enemy units by spending a certain amount of money, although it seems that this involves a bit of mind control as well. Probe Teams can also do this to whole bases (cities), as well.
- Moreover, the Economic Victory condition amounts to buying the loyalty of every single base on Planet. Naturally, you need scads upon scads of energy credits to do this.
- The allied Spy unit in Command And Conquer: Red Alert 3 can buy the loyalty of enemy units, who switch sides permanently.
- Getting approval from the demon assembly in Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is far easier with bribes (and helpfully tells you when a senator wants or doesn't want an item for a bribe). Of course, considering you're in the Netherworld, this has nothing to do with corruption: if a senator doesn't want to support you and you don't want to bribe them, you can beat the crap out of them too. It's just a normal way of doing business.
- Unfortunately, the system was completely broken. Even if you bribed a senator fully onto your side, it was still totally random if they would vote for you when the election happened - the percentage just went up a negligable amount for every rank in your favor you moved them. And beating them up shot their approval of you down. The Dark Assembly was a massive Scrappy Mechanic.
- Humorously played by Renegade!Shepard in a sidequest in Mass Effect 2.
Shepard: I just went all the way up to the Presidium for this. Why should I give it to a random Krogan?
Krogan: I'll pay you a lot for it!
Shepard: Oh, well, that's different.
- In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the player in can bypass the "conversation" mini game (to make someone like you with the speech skill) by paying them off (this seems to literally buy you their friendship). Not that they need it after you've created a 100 charm spell.
- Several Final Fantasy games, most notably Final Fantasy X, make it possible for the party to bribe MONSTERS to make them leave you alone. FFX even lets you bribe a Bonus Boss.
- Mad Gear in Final Fight had the last mayor of Metro City in their back pocket this way. When Mike Haggar took office, he turned down their "little bonus to [his] paycheck", which is why they kidnapped his daughter.
- Subverted in The Witcher. Geralt needs to get past an unfriendly guard and pulls out a bag of gold, stating that "money can open every door". When the guard contradicts him, Geralt proves his statement by using the bag to knock him unconscious.
- Boiling Point: Road to Hell allows the protagonist t bribe any enemy before they turn hostile. It always works, but it's quite expensive, specially for a large group of enemies.
- Shin Megami Tensei games sometimes have this. You can converse with demons and successfully sweet-talk them into essentially selling themselves and join your forces, whether by literally bribing them with Macca or with an item exchange. Mechanics may vary, even reaching Auction of Evil territory on Devil Survivor.
- In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, demons will even raise their prices if you clash with them on the Order Versus Chaos scale, or cut their price if you match. (Be warned - some demons will accept your bribes, then change their minds at the last second. Fricking Angels.)
- In Shin Megami Tensei Imagine, you still talk to demons to convert them into allies, but some are much more picky. You have 3 types of conversation, talk, joke, and threaten, but certain demons, mainly the higher leveled or the rarest, won't even talk to you unless you use one of the bribing talks, starting with macca and going up, ending in gems, to befriend you. Fortunately, the amount needed is set, and once you get to higher levels, when you start needing it, you can easily get the amount needed to bribe 'em.
- Scarface: The World is Yours allows you to pay off gangs or the police in order to lower Heat. Given that, past a certain point on the Heat meters, gangs will attack on sight and cops will react much faster to any misdemeanours, one is likely to use this a lot.
- The Godfather game also uses this. Bribing a Dirty Cop gives you temporary immunity from the law as long as you don't overdo it and bribing their chiefs gives a longer duration for that, while bribing a FBI agent completely empties your Vendetta with other gangs and is the easier way to win a Mob War.
- In Assassin's Creed II, you can bribe Heralds to stop announcing your presence to the populace.
- And then pickpocket them moments later to get all your money back.
- This is discussed in Assassin's Creed III, where after Connor learns this trick from Sam Adams he states that it feels wrong to rely on bribery and dishonesty.
- In Superhero League of Hoboken, all monsters have a "Greed" trait. If it's above 0, you can bribe them, but the higher their greed is, the more you'll need to spend. This still counts as defeating them for experience points. Creatures with 0 Greed, on the other hand, can never be bribed.
- X-COM Apocalypse allows you to "make reparations" to the various organizations that make up Mega-City. You can give them money to change their attitude from openly hostile to neutral, or from neutral to allied (which costs a lot more). Even the Cult of Sirius, who are all but allied with the aliens can be made neutral for a short time (they'll become hostile the second you attack the aliens).
- Many of the Total War games allow you to bribe armies and cities to switch sides. Generals and other factors increase the cost/chance of failure of pulling off the bribe, but it is almost always possible.
- Rise of Nations has the Spy unit, who can bribe most enemy units to your side.
- When Lex Luthor in Justice League assembles an 'Injustice League' of various criminals, they succeed in capturing Batman, who then proceeds to, among other things, bribe Ultra-Humanite with an outrageous sum. It works. Humanite takes the bribe...and donates it to public broadcasting. Batman, meanwhile, brings down the whole league from the inside. So even supervillains have their price...
Ultra-Humanite: What do I need with money?
Luthor: Everybody needs money. The only question is: How much?
- Lampshaded in The Simpsons in a scene between Mr. Burns and the nuclear inspector:
Inspector: Burns, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to bribe me.
Burns: Is there some confusion about this? thrusting the money into the inspector's pockets Take it! Take it! Take it, you poor schmo!
- In another episode, an ancestor of Mr. Burns was looking for a fugitive slave and Hiram Simpson knew where said slave was hidden. At first, Hiram invoked the I Gave My Word trope but Col. Burns said that, as a slave owner, he knows how to evaluate a man's price and calculated Hiram's to be "a pleasant surprise". It worked. The surprise happened to be a pair of shoes. Hiram's ex-wife got one of the shoes at the divorce. Instead of laces, her shoe came with a note from Hiram telling her he'd keep them.
- But sometimes it's not that easy, as when Homer worked at a carnival and Chief Wiggum came for his bribe and, despite Bart trying to help, he just didn't get it.
Chief: The person - wink - that I'm looking for - wink - is Mr. Bribe - wink, wink. (places hand on money box)
Homer: It's a ring-toss game.
- From the pilot of Gargoyles:
Pay a man enough, and he'll walk barefoot into Hell.
- Economics regards this as a near-universal fact - all motivations can be quantified and converted into moneynote . There are even economic analyses of how people could engage in suicide attacks on the basis of rational self-interest.
- Many defectors have used bribe money to escape North Korea and/or convince North Korean officials to ignore black market deals. Bribery became very common after North Korea's economy started to fail when the Cold War ended. North Korea depended on foreign aid to keep its economy intact. When Russia and China began to charge higher prices for petroleum and other supplies; the infrastructure suffered a breakdown that became worse after the famine. However, the Bribe Backfire can instantly apply if the bribe threatens the North Korean official with public exposure.
- This also has applied to China. Bribes are paid so black market operations will be ignored.
- This is common practice in many countries, especially poorer ones. There are many places around the world where the difference between success and failure is dependent on giving the right corrupt official a small cash payout. Where foreigners from richer countries are involved, such a bribes can easily amount to more then said official's paycheck.
- Often though, it is customary to have a small face-saving device by paying the bribe in something that looks less crass then money. An art object or rare wine bottle might do for example.
- On the other hand, it is sometimes a custom to send such an object as a gift after a successful or lucrative business deal. While this can actually be perfectly innocent, the recipient can't accept the gift, because of company policy born of this trope.
- In some places where bribery is so ubiquitous, it's necessary in order to get an official to actually do their job at allnote . Companies will often have (suitably discreet) line items in their planning budgets to handle the required bribes. This is often because public servants in these countries are ludicrously underpaid, as the government there has no money... although usually, the government has no money because the people at the top have been lining their own pockets out of the state treasury.
- This is also why there are so many "bad Russian driving" videos uploaded to YouTube - because of the rampant use of bribes, installing dashboard cameras was the easiest way to combat the corruption. It's a bit hard to convince a judge that you were at fault when there's video evidence proving that the other guy ran a stop-sign.
- There are several instances in history of wars being won by bribing the enemy's soldiers to abandon their cause. A prime example would be the brief, largely-abortive war the (New/2nd) 'Guangxi Clique' waged against the Kuomintang in the mid 1930s. Chiang Kai-Shek's 'Silver Bullets' did far more to ensure the collapse of the Warlords' forces than did the efforts of the Kuomintang's troops. Since they were all nominally under the government of the Republic of China, all the country's troops (regardless of who actually paid them and where their real allegiances lay) technically answered to Generalissimo Chiang, it was actually perfectly legal for him to give large bonuses to 'his' commanders as 'rewards for their service and loyalty' - though all said commanders were actually equipped and supplied by and answered to the Guangxi Clique.
- Philip of Macedon (Alexander the Great's father) used to say that even a donkey can enter the strongest fortress there is. Provided the donkey carries enough gold, of course.